Tuesday, December 6, 2011

6-6-6: The American Soldier

In 2009, I posted the following in response to some threads on another website that discussed the depiction of American soldiers in ASL, most particularly the 1st line U.S. Army squad that saw combat in Europe. I didn't intend to crawl into the thought processes of the original designers of the game - I wasn't one of them nor do I know any of them personally - but as I review and revise the material for presentation here, I still feel perhaps a historical discussion of some of the characteristics of the American infantryman and a little compare/contrast with the Germans might be of interest to those unfamiliar with him, and offer a brief look at the depiction of the G.I. in the evolution of the Advanced Squad Leader game system. The comments are really applicable to any tactical game system, though references to firepower factors and morale are obviously peculiar to ASL.

Squad Leader to G.I.

A brief description of the evolution of the portrayal of the G.I. in ASL is easily achieved; in Squad Leader, there were two types of squads for the three nationalities. The Russians and Germans had 4-firepower squads to represent the fact they were predominantly armed with bolt action rifles. The Americans had an advantage in men (by 1944, a 12-man squad as opposed to the 9-man squad of the Germans) and raw firepower (the semi-automatic M-1 Garand rifle, described by General Patton as the best battle implement ever devised, supplemented by a the M-1 and M-2 carbines in semi- and full- automatic intended as a replacement for the .45 automatic pistol in front-line units). "Engineer" squads received 8 firepower and represented units armed with submachine guns, the Germans 8-3-8s and the Americans 8-4-7s. The American 6-6-6 squad, with its ominous ratings, was competitive because the GIs were also immune to Desperation Morale (DM) status. They were also automatically granted captured weapon use beyond what the Germans were permitted, representing the American fascination - so the designers told us - with "gadgets."

Cross of Iron introduced new unit types for the Germans; the 6-5-8 SS squad, armed with assault rifles, and the 5-4-8 "cavalry" squad which in ASL is often used to depict paratroopers armed with the FG42 assault rifle. G.I.: Anvil of Victory saw an expansion of the Americans to include "Green" and "2nd Line" units, as well as "Elite" 6-6-7 squads a cut above the 6-6-6s, and the downgrade of the "Airborne" squad to a 7-4-7. The ability to repair broken support weapons on a "1" or "2" was not trivial (33% chance of success, double that of other nationalities), increased smoke grenade capability, WP availability and the retention of DM-lessness.

ASL saw minor changes to the American order of battle, though the elimination of the DM bonus was not trivial. However, the broken side morale of the 6-6-6 squad was increased to 8 - a "bonus" of 2, something not granted to other squads of other nationalities at that scale.

So why does the G.I. rate a 6 morale? The observation is often made that the American fighting man is rated lower than the worst of the European armies. The Italians, who lost Hitler's war in Russia, the Balkans, and North Africa, who surrendered in pitiful mobs at the first opportunity, have a 1st line squad superior to the G.I. The Romanians, who collapsed on the flanks of the 6th Army, have a squad superior to those that stormed ashore on OMAHA Beach. Why?

Quantifying factors for a game is no simple task; armour values are a relatively simple matter (the late Lorrin Bird would no doubt argue it is not, and he'd be right, but at the least, it is more a matter of mathematics than such intangibles as morale) compared to capturing the likelihood of a group of 12 men to stand and fight, or go to ground, or even surrender - or try and devise a game system in which you can depict a squad doing all those things in the same turn.

Conscription and military training
The majority of American soldiers were (relatively) short-term soldiers; many were volunteers, some were draftees. Almost all intended to leave the military at the conclusion of hostilities. This was not different from the European militaries, though military life was certainly different in the European militaries. In the German Army, pre-military training might start before the age of 12 in the youth services; after high school, mandatory service in the Reich Labour Service beckoned, which was highly militarized and included drill, field camps and marching in addition to labour tasks. Mandatory military service followed. By the time he was in the Army, the German male had been fully indoctrinated in a military outlook and rarely had problems adjusting to discipline and authority. The average U.S. recruit encountered considerably more culture shock, particularly the urban recruit not used to long days or physical labour. Like all soldiers, though, he quickly adapted because he had to.

Raw material, though, was often wanting. Other armies also noted a tendency for the best officer and junior leader candidates to join the air service or the navy; there was no glamour in the infantry, though the paratroops (and in the U.S., the Marines) did draw eager volunteers - the jump pay of the former was a nice incentive as well. The U.S. Army only had one category of general service into which physical abilities were graded, compared to the German or British armies which had a wider series of grades, meaning that American infantry units received fewer suitable candidates. Education and intelligence was also a problem.

Craig F. Posey discussed this in his excellent article "A Nation of Workers: Utlization of American Manpower and Material in ASL" in ASL Annual '89. According to him:

Field commanders in 1942 complained repeatedly that they were receiving men of so low a mental capability to be trained. One commander stated that the hardest problem in finding competent enlisted peronnel to be instructors was because "everybody higher than a moron" had already been pulled out...An Army Ground Forces observer with the Fifth Army in Italy (obviously in 1943 or later) reported, "Squad leaders and patrol leaders with initiative were scarce...the assignment of Grade V men to infantry is murder." In essence, competent leaders were scarcest where the fighting was the thickest.

No one can criticize them for not being perfect, but it sometimes seemed like they didn't even try. What is clear is that the AGF had a problem in that by the time the "specialists" (which, oddly to us today, didn't include the infantry) skimmed off the higher graded candidates, the U.S. Army found that the average intelligence level was "well below the national average." The U.S. Army Infantry did score at least one coup over the other services in their quest to predict who would stand up best to the crucible of combat. A skinny Texas farm kid named Murphy was turned down for both the paratroopers and the Marines before becoming America's most decorated soldier of World War II.

Rank and Authority
The German Army was ironically more egalitarian than the U.S. Army; German officers were often considered "good comrades" by their men, exposed themselves to front line conditions, and enjoyed relatively few comforts. There were also far fewer officers in a front line infantry company in the Wehrmacht; platoons were almost always led by battle-hardened NCOs in the German Army. In the U.S. Army, platoon commanders had to be commissioned officers, and by 1945 they were inexperienced - "90-day wonders" from an Officer Candidate School. Those few "mustangs" who were commissioned from the ranks were not permitted to serve in the same units in which they cut their teeth out of fear their former comrades would not respect their new-found authority. Casualty rates among officers was also high, meaning many did not live long enough to gain the experience they needed to command with the authority and respect their German counterparts earned by advancing through the ranks, usually for months, sometimes for years. The officer candidate system in the German Army required the soldier to serve in the ranks of a field unit as an offizieranwärter, something U.S. OCS candidates were not necessarily required to do. Robert S. Rush commented in his book "G.I.: The U.S. Infantryman in World War II":

Later in 1944, the OCS policy changed to accept soldiers directly from the RTCs, which because of the younger draft ages, lowered the average age of candidates to something less than the mid-20s. The popular image of the beardless 90-day wonder leading other baby-faced soldiers, though partially true in 1945, was not in 1944. Before deploying overseas, officers shipping as replacements spent, by AGF policy, at least three months with company-level tactical units in the U.S.

By contrast, German officer candidates did two months field training with units of the Field Army - combat units, in other words.

Regionalism and Replacements
It is not widely reported in English histories, but the German Army had a regional-based organization very similar to the "county" regiments of the British Army, though individual regimental identities had been phased out after the First World War to place emphasis on divisional identities, a model the U.S. Army strongly emphasized as well. While the Wehrmacht did have official perpetuations of regimental histories, there seems to have been little but lip service paid to these in favour of regional designations of the divisions. They are usually absent in English language histories. Elite units such as Grossdeutschland were notable in that they recruited nationally, but other divisions drew strength from recruiting locally. The U.S. Army drew some strength from this model as well, certainly the National Guard divisions such as the 36th (Texas) Division or the 29th (Blue and Gray). The story of Bedford on D-Day is well known.

The Germans and the U.S. Army both had a system in which wounded men might not be returned to their former unit. The American system of "replacements" however, was notorious. While the Germans fed their divisions by recruiting locally and creating formed units known as "March Battalions" for the trip to the front (often stopping on the way to the Field Training units for indoctrination in the rear areas by way of "partisan hunts" before final advanced training), the Americans treated the need for replacements somewhat different. According to Mark Henry's "The US Army in World War II: Northwest Europe":

The giant olive drab machine needed a constant flow of additional troops to keep up its strength. The AEF in World War I solved this problem by disbanding about every fourth division arriving in France...In World War II the Army refused to allow this, and depended on individuals sent from the US to fill the gaps. Emphasising its machine-like viewpoint, the Army called these men 'replacements'. In 1944 the number of men individually trained for posting as replacement parts rapidly fell short of the needs of the ravenous armies in France. The units based in the USA were soon mercilessly plundered. This weakened these training units, and sent bewildered replacements forward to units with which they had no connection. The semi-trained GIs lurched through the system until they arrived at forward replacement depots...Here combat-experienced GIs, sent forward again after recovering from wounds, mingled with the green replacements for days or even weeks as they awaited new assignments.

Stephen Ambrose said of this system that "Had the Germans been given a free hand to devise a replacement system for the ETO, one that would do the Americans most harm and least good, they could not have done a better job."

As a sidebar, both armies were racist and both had an interesting history of social experimentation when manpower crunches began to make themselves felt. All-black combat units began to see action in Italy and the ETO; some, like the 761st Tank Battalion, gave a good account of themselves while others, such as the 92nd Infantry Division, have been painted in much harsher terms. The Nisei units have been painted in much more glowing terms and have a better war record. Both were officered predominantly by "whites". The Germans, for their part, considered themselves racially homogenous due to their bizarre Nuremberg Laws which stressed biological purity, but when the crunch came in the mid-war period, dozens of foreign legions began to appear in uniform, and Ost Bataillonen were in the trenches on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. Other exotic units such as the Free India Legion saw little or no combat but were advertised for propaganda value as taking their place in the anti-Communist, anti-Semetic crusade. The point, perhaps, is that in the all-white combat units that made up the majority of either army, there was less discord of the type that characterized units of the U.S. Army in Vietnam, where strife sometimes existed within units broken down along racial lines, reflecting the same kind of rifts in society back home.

In my Army unit in Vietnam we had a rule that only E5's and above were permitted to enter our NCO Club. However, an E4 was allowed to enter if 'sponsored' and escorted by an E5 or above. To keep black troops out of the club, which displayed a four-by-six foot Confederate battle flag on the wall behind the bar, no black was ever promoted above E4 during my 12 months there, and no black E4 was ever 'sponsored' by a white E5 or above.

Racism in Vietnam was practiced daily by many in Vietnam. But you would never know it today because those who practiced racism against their fellow Americans adamantly deny any form or manner of racism ever existed in Vietnam, or if racism did exist it was rare and islolated. Very few African Americans hold memberships in Vietnam Veteran organizations because of past and ongoing racism. --Otis Willie (Ret.), Military News and Information Editor, The American War Library

Perhaps the crux of the morale issue is the least tangible and hardest to source accurately; the GI was the least warlike compared to the Europeans because he had the least to lose. His home was farthest from the fighting. The Italians on Sicily were defending their own soil; the Germans in Normandy were fighting a last ditch defence of what by 1944 had become a way of life to them. The Romanians and Hungarians and various factions of the Yugoslavians all had bitter old scores to settle with each other. The American soldier was for the most part eager to shed his olive coloured clothes and return to the normalcy of civilian life.


The G.I. is often criticized for being a lot of things, but the criticisms don't ring true. Among some of the more popular ones:

The G.I. was too reliant on firepower to win his battles for him.

This one makes little sense on the face of it. The G.I. effectively used his excellent artillery support to good effect to pound the daylights out of the Germans whenever and wherever he found him. No one seems to "criticize" the Germans for using their mortars so effectively in the defence, or whining that they "didn't fight fair" for siting these invisible, near-soundless weapons with wild abandon wherever an infantry battalion stopped to fight and inflicting terrible damage with them (by some accounts, up to 70% of British casualties in Normandy, for example, were a result of German mortars). The G.I. wasn't concerned about fighting fair - he fought smart where and when he could. And there were plenty of bloodbaths to go around regardless; Hürtgen Forest coming to mind.

The G.I. was no match for the German in a one on one battle.

Outside of the Roman Coliseum or an episode of Combat!, there were very few one-on-one battles, so the comparison is meaningless. And even so, the G.I. received a lot of training before embarking for overseas - certainly more training days than the Landser, though admittedly things like close order drill and other Army "chicken" crowded the syllabus long after the German dropped such things from his (by 1944 basic training for German infantrymen might be as little as 7 weeks, and advanced training might include actual combat missions such as "partisan hunts").


The frontline G.I. won the war; without arguing about the importance of the Eastern Front or the Pacific, or the Combined Bomber Offensive, or the North Atlantic Run, all of which was part of a massive team effort by the Allies and the United Nations, the G.I. in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and Italy in 1944-45, along with his allies, guaranteed final victory over the Germans.

The Culin device, one of many implements devised in the bocage to get through the hedgerows.

He didn't do it with bloodless victories such as Operation Desert Storm; it wasn't that kind of war, and the Germans weren't that kind of enemy. The G.I. had to go at him for long months, and devise new ways of doing things, often with equipment not up to the task. And he overcame and adapted. The best example is the Culin hedgerow device; a tactical problem made itself apparent and the U.S. Army responded. (There were others, less famous, such as the "Salad Fork".) When the Sherman proved vulnerable to enemy tanks - a role that doctrine never intended it to take on - tank crews provided local solutions in the form of improvised armor kits, tactics (placing Jumbos in key positions) and eventually new equipment. Individual units simply endured apalling conditions wherever they were; despite a few setbacks on the way - mass surrenders such as the 106th Division in the Bulge were extreme outliers as were mass slaughters such as OMAHA Beach - he was capable of outstanding feats of bravery.

There is no insult in saying that there was nothing European about him. The American is - or was - an individualist with pride in himself. The G.I. eschewed the trappings of the British regimental system, and was derided for having no pride; and forewent the flash of the German uniforms, and was ridiculed for having no style. But by the time he blasted himself out of the bocage, he had something far more important - the self-assuredness of a veteran soldier who could use his equipment, training and bravery to best advantage, and historians can say that after Kasserine Pass, the American soldier never lost a battle.

Does he "deserve" to be treated in ASL the same as those Europeans, with 7 morale? I say he doesn't. He had a unique character that is well reflected in ASL which is itself a unique game system. The replacement problem was not confined to the Americans - the British and Canadians in Northwest Europe also suffered from a "reinforcement crisis" in the autumn of 1944, post-Normandy. And Canadians were just as far from Europe as the GIs were, so the rationale for the "6" morale can't stop there. The other factors all play into it as well; there is also the well documented poor quality of recruits and the leadership aspect - which should extend beyond just the SMC countermix of any given scenario.

Jeffery Williams, a Calgary Highlander serving in a staff position in 1st Canadian Army, wrote after the war about contacts between the 3rd Canadian Division and the American 82nd Airborne in the winter of 1944-45:

It was the first time that General Spry's men had had direct dealings with Americans. They were intrigued by their language which was familiar but seemed non-military - torches were flashlights, petrol was gasoline. They were fascinated by their equipment, their robust 'deuce-and-halfs' and four wheel drive 'threequarters' (2-1/2 and 3/4 ton trucks), their weapons and their rations. They liked the U.S. .30 calibre carbine but they wouldn't swap a Browning automatic rifle for a Bren. In fact, there was little that the Americans had that they envied, certainly not their rations nor their clothing. Everyone shivered in that damp November but the Americans 'looked' colder. As one battalion commander put it, 'They were great guys, good soldiers who had fought well. We gained a great respect for them but their ways were not our ways.'

Famous photo of an 82nd Airborne trooper in the winter of 1944-45 (in fact, it was used on the cover of Close Assault). The Canadians who relieved the 82nd in the Nijmegen Salient thought the Americans "looked cold."

None of which is to take away from the fighting abilities of the U.S. Army soldier - who turned in ferocious fighting performances from Morocco to the Elbe. But he was what he was - mostly just there for the duration, doing things his own way - just like everyone else.